Care farming could be a significant supplier of health, social and educational services in the UK if its potential is fully exploited, according to new research.
Care Farming: The Offer in England, commissioned by Natural England, concluded that more than nearly 7,000 people per week already benefit from care farming, but there is capacity to do much more if farms get the support they need.
The idea of using farming activities to provide health, social and educational care services has been growing steadily in the UK over the last decade. Care farms provide supervised, structured programmes for a wide range of people, including those with learning disabilities, Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), those with a drug history, people on probation, young people at risk and older people, as well as those suffering from the effects of work-related ill-health or mental health issues.
But researchers found that three-quarters of the UK’s care farms are not running at full capacity, and that if all places at existing care farms were filled, around 11,000 people per week could benefit in England and more than 13,000 across the UK. Many of the 169 care farmers who took part in the research said that they would be able to offer extra sessions if they had more resources, such as more finance, staff, land or buildings.
The review shows that while care farms in England cater for a range of vulnerable groups, most provide services for people with learning difficulties (93%), autism spectrum disorders (84%), mental ill-health (75%) and young people at risk (64%).
Care Farming UK’s chair, Lorraine Brown said: “This review really improves our understanding of where care farming services stand at the moment. It provides crucial information on how care farming can improve what’s on offer to health, probation, education and other commissioning bodies. Clearly more support is needed, so that care farmers can expand their current provision and become a much bigger supplier of health, social and educational care services.”
Supporting care farming is a Government commitment, which Natural England currently helps deliver through the Higher Level Stewardship educational access option. However, the full extent and potential of valuable care farming services is not always widely recognised, so Natural England commissioned the research review to better define the full range of health, social and education services that are provided.
The findings from this collaborative project with Care Farming UK, the University of Essex and the University of Leeds, and advice from other Universities and Linking Environment And Farming, will help care farmers improve the quality of their service and help the sector to increase the scale and coherence of their overall service. Commissioners and local authorities will also have online access to comprehensive, up-to-date information regarding the provision of Care Farming services in their area through the Care Farming UK website at www.carefarminguk.org.